What’s best for a newbie to start - chicks or pullets?

Norcalnewbie

In the Brooder
Dec 13, 2020
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We want to end up with 6 hens this coming year, each one of a different breed (BCM, Silkie, Polish, Lavender orpington, EE, Cochin). Our plan was to get 6 chicks this Spring, but upon more research I’m concerned we will end up with some roos if we get them all as chicks from local breeders. I was really hoping to have our two daughters raise the chicks from hand as just-hatched to ensure they’re friendly and good pets, but also worried we will put in all this effort, get attached, and then find out a couple months later that some of our little fluffy butts are roosters that will have to be rehomed, leaving us to then find the same breeds as pullets that will have to be incorporated into the flock - a possibly stressful task as I’ve read (or maybe not - expert advice welcome!).

So my question is this - if we’re starting fresh, what is the best approach to take that allows for the best human-chicken bond, fun for the kids, stability of the flock, while ensuring we will end up with the right number of hens (excluding chicken math, I know I know). I know probably the right answer is to buy them all as sexed pullets, but that frankly just doesn’t seem as fun as getting chicks, and also doesn’t allow for as much crucial human handling, and we want our chickens first and foremost to be friendly family pets.

Is it worth it to just buy a bunch of chicks, maybe 3 of each breed we want, and cross our fingers that at least one of each ends up female and then sell or give away the rest? How difficult is it to find someone to buy hens or rehome roosters? What are the steps for getting them DNA tested?

Curious to know how the larger hatcheries sex their day old chicks that typically can’t be sexed until they’re pullets. I’ve already looked into the logistics of mail-ordered chicks, but I’d rather shop local and I’m already in contact with some breeders, and also I don’t want as many as the typical minimum order of 15 or 25 chicks, (unless maybe that could be the strategy as listed above.)

Lastly, what should I look for when choosing a breeder? Should I only be looking into breeders that have a great reputation, vaccinate, and breed to American standards? Or does that only matter if I’m planning on starting my own breeding program, which I’m not.

Any advice or professional insight is welcome.
 

21hens-incharge

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Wowsie!

How old are the kids?
Hatcheries have professional vent sexers. Even they make some mistakes and hatcheries guarantee about a 90% accurate sexing.
As pets I wouldn't worry to much about SOP. SOP birds are quite a bit more expensive than pet quality. Unless you are showing birds or trying to breed for SOP pet quality is still nice.

With this being your first venture into chickens I would skip getting crested breeds as pullets. Non crested birds find those head floofs irresistible and tend to pluck them ruthlessly.

Getting them all as young chicks would give the fluff tops a better chance at being accepted.

My personal preference is to ALWAYS buy as chicks. Less chance of introducing a disease to my property that way.
 

Norcalnewbie

In the Brooder
Dec 13, 2020
12
31
46
Wowsie!

How old are the kids?
Hatcheries have professional vent sexers. Even they make some mistakes and hatcheries guarantee about a 90% accurate sexing.
As pets I wouldn't worry to much about SOP. SOP birds are quite a bit more expensive than pet quality. Unless you are showing birds or trying to breed for SOP pet quality is still nice.

With this being your first venture into chickens I would skip getting crested breeds as pullets. Non crested birds find those head floofs irresistible and tend to pluck them ruthlessly.

Getting them all as young chicks would give the fluff tops a better chance at being accepted.

My personal preference is to ALWAYS buy as chicks. Less chance of introducing a disease to my property that way.

Kids are 5 and 3, albeit abnormally responsible children, but obvious supervision will be required.
I think your advice is sound regarding chicks - So you’d suggest going with the hatchery since local breeders won’t typically be able to sex accurately, if at all, and what, get more than I need and plan to sell/give away the rest when they come of age? Without getting into chicken math, assume I only want 6 in the end, but hatcheries will require minimum 15 or even 25.
 

21hens-incharge

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Kids are 5 and 3, albeit abnormally responsible children, but obvious supervision will be required.
I think your advice is sound regarding chicks - So you’d suggest going with the hatchery since local breeders won’t typically be able to sex accurately, if at all, and what, get more than I need and plan to sell/give away the rest when they come of age? Without getting into chicken math, assume I only want 6 in the end, but hatcheries will require minimum 15 or even 25.

Many hatcheries have recognized that the backyard keeper is often limited in how many birds they can legally have. There are a lot of them now offering to ship small orders for a fee of course.
A way around that would be to find a feed store that will add chicks of your chosen breeds to one of their orders. Here most will gladly special order for you. They actually make money on all the supplies you buy not the chick sales.
TSC has a reputation for ordering unsexed so I personally would look elsewhere.

From your username I am guessing you are in Northern California.
Choose a hatchery near you so they stand the best chance possible.

Cackle is who I have ordered from and been happy with.
 

CluckerFamily

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I would start with chicks so that you can bond with them better than pullets.
I would look into a near by store like Tractor Supply. I go to a store called Ace Hardware, I like being able to see the chicks and pick the ones I want.
 

BGcoop

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I agree if you are looking for bonding go with chicks, then be sure to spend time with them every day! I’ve had birds only three years but my oldest girls are my friendliest since I spent the most time with them.
 

rosemarythyme

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Chicks will more likely yield friendlier birds, started pullets will guarantee you only get girls. If going with chicks, yes, you need a plan on what you want to do with any males you get.

Starting out, I feel it's a little safer going either all bantams or all standard sized birds, to minimize any potential picking issues before you even start, though there's many people on here who have successfully raised mixed flocks.

Difficulty rehoming roos really depends on your area - if for example they're not allowed in your city or any of the cities nearby, it'll be much harder for you to find a home since no one nearby can take him. For me, the easiest way to get rid of them is to donate them as dinner.

DNA testing can be done with eggshell membrane (which you wouldn't have), blood or feathers. I've done feather DNA sexing before and it was relatively quick (like 1 week turnaround) and easy, but not cheap if you need to do multiple birds. I think I paid $20-25 for one bird.

As far as sourcing, personally... I just get chicks from local feed stores, because I don't get enough chicks at a time to qualify for minimum shipping numbers. The stores I go to all post their shipping schedule at the start of the season so you can plan out when to go. The feed stores can order in bulk from hatcheries and will eat any losses from shipping . Look for bins marked "pullets" for vent sexed birds. Avoid any store that allows customers to handle chicks unsupervised, to avoid chicks being mishandled or moved between bins prior to sale. Might want to avoid TSC as well since they're infamous for mislabeling bins.
 

AOrchard

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I'd look for friendly pullets or compromise on breeds and get sexed chicks.

Pullets I would get from a small time local breeder that spends a lot of time with their chicks. Pullets raised by a 4-H kid, or raised by hand in small batches. They'll have a good friendly socialized start, and your kids can take over from there. I raise chicks into pullets on my farm like this, they'll run to eat out of your hand by the time they are ready for the new home and do very well becoming loved pets with their new owners.

Otherwise, I'd try to get sexable at birth chicks from a local breeder. These include breeds like black sex link, red sex link, legbars, any barred rock crosses, and several others.

For a small group of layers/pets like this, really any hens from any responsible breeder will work. Responsible here means healthy and caring. You don't need fancy genetics or show quality right now (might when kids grow). You also don't need big name or established breeders.

The TSC by me is a great place to get sexed chicks, has been very reliable. TSCs seem to vary a lot from store to store, I'd ask some locals about yours.

Giving away roosters for free is possible with some effort, but it can be hard for the kids.

Polish or bantams with full size are fine in my experience IF they are raised from baby chicks with the others.
 

CluckerFamily

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I only know and have one type of chicken and I don't know a lot about other breeds.

Isn't there a breed that you can sex by looking at the feather colors of the chick? I thought there was one breed that the chicks were black meant one sex and the other color was a different color. If so, these breed may be a better choice to start with.
 

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